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Kimble: County Democrats missing at polls

With Republicans about as unpopular as, well, President Bush, you’d think it would be easy to get Democrats to the polls.

But that wasn’t the case earlier this month, as a surprisingly high number of voters – especially Pima County Democrats – didn’t bother to vote.

Even those who did cast ballots didn’t vote in all races. Statewide, about 306,000 voters – more than 1 in 8 – didn’t vote for a state Senate candidate in their district.

And unbelievably, more than 26,000 voters took the time to go to the polls but didn’t vote for a presidential candidate. Mark them down as still undecided.

More than two weeks since the election, some numbers are just becoming available to slice and dice and try to answer some of the “whys.”

The most glaring thing that pops out is the clear indication that although Democrats made a lot of noise – and rightly so – about registering lots of first-time voters, they were far less successful in persuading them to actually cast a ballot.

Specific party turnout numbers aren’t available. But anecdotal evidence shows that in Democratic-leaning Pima County, Republicans did a better job of getting their voters out.

Yes, Barack Obama was elected president and carried Pima County, which has 27,000 more Democrats than Republicans. But in GOP-dominated areas, Republicans were far more likely to vote.

Take a look at state Senate races as an example. In the six legislative districts that include parts of Pima County, four had contested Senate races.

Each party had the registration edge in two of the districts and won in “their” districts. No big surprise. But the numbers show a lot more.

In Republican-leaning District 26 on the Northwest Side, voter turnout was 85.2 percent. In Republican-leaning District 30 on the East Side and in Green Valley, turnout was an astounding 87.1 percent.

In four other local districts, all of which favor Democrats, turnout ranged from 69.9 percent to 80.8 percent.

Arizona has 30 legislative districts, and when they were drawn in 2002, all had about the same number of residents. But the number of people who voted in each varied dramatically.

District 30, in which Republican Jonathan Paton was elected to the state Senate, had 107,175 voters – more than any other district in the state. Second was District 26, with 94,408 voters – the majority of whom sent Republican Al Melvin to the state Senate.

Big turnout in areas that lean Republican; lower turnout in areas that tilt Democratic.

Melvin was one of the main beneficiaries of the Republican bump, winning the District 26 seat that had been held by a Democrat. Melvin ran – and lost – in 2004. This year, he said, Republicans were excited and ready to vote – despite Bush’s unpopularity.

“For whatever reason, there was a lot of apathy and angst in 2006,” Melvin said this week. “This year, they were energized, energetic, motivated and positive.”

In 2006, Republicans were angry about efforts to push immigration reform, he said. And this year, “They didn’t want Barack Obama to win. They turned out in droves to defeat him.”

Democrat Nancy Young Wright saw some of the same from the other side in District 26. She was elected to a full term in the House, having filled a vacancy the past year.

“Some people have theorized that with Barack Obama projected to win, Democrats thought they didn’t have to vote,” Young Wright said.

David Higuera, a political consultant for The Strategic Issues Management Group, worked on the campaigns for three Democratic candidates and two initiatives. He said it is well-known that “it doesn’t take as many resources to get Republicans to vote.”

A Republican is likely to ask for an early vote-by-mail ballot after being sent two or three mailers, Higuera said. But it takes four or five mailers to persuade a Democrat to do so.

David Steele, also with The Strategic Issues Management Group, said Republicans “are more incentivized to go out and vote. It could be an age thing.”

Young Wright seems resigned that it will just take more work to get her supporters to the polls.

“You would think that by now, some political scientist would figure out what motivates a Democrat.”

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. He may be reached at mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4662.

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